06/06/2013 12:40PM

Belmont Stakes workouts: Orb remains one to beat

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Tom Keyser
Kentucky Derby winner Orb gallops at Belmont Park on Thursday ahead of Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Another Triple Crown season will come to an end Saturday with the running of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, and so too will another season of Daily Racing Form’s Triple Crown clocker’s reports.

Many of the Belmont starters have become very familiar figures out on the racetrack each morning, having competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Among them is Orb, who pretty much touted his Kentucky Derby victory with the way he trained up to the race both in Florida and following his arrival at Churchill Downs.

Then there are the new shooters, such as Freedom Child, who has looked every bit as good preparing for his Triple Crown debut in the Belmont.

The following are the impressions left by the 14 starters in this year’s Belmont Stakes, in post-position order, from observations made both in New York and during last week’s brief visit to Churchill Downs.

Frac Daddy – One of the nine members of the Belmont field I had an opportunity to see train fairly extensively prior to the Derby. A late arrival in New York, he wasted little time getting right to business Wednesday with an eye-catching 1 1/8-mile open gallop in which he zipped around at better than a two-minute clip and blew out a 25-second-and-change quarter-mile to the wire before continuing on strongly into and around the clubhouse turn.

He showed a similar eagerness to train in the weeks leading up to the Derby but did not perform to expectations, considering those promising morning sessions. While I did not see any of his recent bullet half-mile works at Churchill Downs, trainer Ken McPeek said he is hoping to use that newfound speed to put Frac Daddy right on the lead from the rail Saturday.

[BELMONT STAKES WORKOUTS: Past reports and video updates]

Freedom Child – Nobody has trained any better or looked any sharper since my arrival in New York than the Peter Pan winner, who has turned in very impressive-looking, stamina-enhancing  jog/gallop training sessions measuring nearly three miles apiece on a regular basis following a 59-and-change five-furlong drill May 27.

Although he did not record an official work after that trial, he looked awesome when allowed to drop his head and open-gallop seven furlongs in 1:34.70 from the six-furlong pole, completing the move with a 12-and-change final eighth just for good measure, here Sunday. There’s no question that he’s going into the race on top of his game. A wet track would obviously be to his advantage, and it may just be a matter of whether he’ll be able to rate and carry his abundant speed for 12 furlongs.

Overanalyze – The Arkansas Derby winner trained about as well as anybody going into the Kentucky Derby and disappointed on race day. He’s also looked very good in the final week leading up to the Belmont, more than holding his own here Sunday when working in company with the stakes-winning veteran Caixa Eletronica, the pair completing the final quarter of their half-mile drill in 22.60 under little to no encouragement, then shading 12 seconds in the gallop-out. I’m willing to give him a mulligan for his Derby performance over the sloppy going at Churchill, with the caveat that at press time, there was a pretty good chance he’d encounter another wet track here Saturday.  

Giant Finish – He probably exceeded expectations when finishing midpack in the Derby, but he does look like a lightly raced 3-year-old on the improve. He turned in just an average-looking, half-mile maintenance blowout under jockey Edgar Prado here Tuesday and, at best, looks like a fringe player who might be worth tossing in on the bottom end of any widespread trifecta and superfecta tickets.

Orb – I came to New York anxious to see if the Derby winner might be tailing off just a bit following his disappointing try at Pimlico, and while he continued to look very sound, he did not show the same energy level during routine gallops in the unseasonably warm conditions here last weekend as he had in Kentucky.

But his final breeze Sunday, a very easy and sharp-looking half-mile in 48.30 with a typically willing gallop-out, and several subsequent eager gallops lead me to believe he’s been able to maintain the peak form he’s displayed for nearly the last six months and remains the one to beat Saturday.   

Incognito – His breeding suggests he could be a sleeper going 1 1/2 miles despite his being badly outrun in the Peter Pan. He’s been on his toes during routine jogs and gallops, although I was a little disappointed by his final work over the training track, where he got a little too rank and went a little too fast early before weakening to finish behind stablemate Irsaal and then failing to gallop out with much interest beyond the wire.

I would prefer to see him running on Lasix, but he still gives the impression that he may be one to grab a minor share at a major price. 

[BELMONT STAKES: Field and latest updates]

Oxbow – He’s become a bit of a head-scratcher after definitely running better in the Derby than his training suggested before improving even further with his victory in the Preakness. He’s not the prettiest mover in the morning, and his final serious Belmont prep last week at Churchill Downs was just average at best, as he was too eager early and had little left during the latter stages of a 1:14.08 six-furlong drill, with not much gallop-out to follow. He appears to be traveling a little smoother since arriving locally and was full of himself during the latter stages of an energetic gallop Thursday.

Midnight Taboo – He’s been the least impressive-looking of trainer Todd Pletcher’s Belmont quintet and was under steady urging to finish on even terms with stablemate Micromanage both to the wire and galloping out after Sunday’s five-furlong prep. He’s also been getting hot in the mornings, not only during the unseasonably warm weather last weekend but prior to and during a routine gallop under cool conditions here Thursday.

Revolutionary – He was one of the training stars during Derby Week and, as a result, my second choice in the race, finishing a good third, albeit with a perfect pace setup and trip. That being said, he has not made the same impression here over the past week. Although he did finish on the proper lead in last Sunday’s work, something he was not doing at Churchill Downs before the Derby, he had to be put to some urging to complete an average half-mile in 48.51, in sharp contrast to a couple of more impressive-looking pre-Derby trials that featured stronger finishes and gallop-outs without the need for any urging whatsoever.

Several of his daily gallops, especially in the heat here, seemed a little lackluster, although he did appear noticeably sharper and more willing from start to finish Thursday.

Will Take Charge – He’s one of the more imposing-looking horses in this field and has made a favorable impression on a daily basis since arriving in New York earlier this week. But, like Oxbow, he was not very impressive in his final Belmont prep last week at Churchill, where he failed to finish or gallop out strongly following a very average 1:15.67 six-furlong drill.

Vyjack – He was not one of the favorites during training hours leading up to the Derby and performed accordingly but has looked a lot better in the morning since shipping over from Aqueduct last weekend. He had much more left in the tank at the end of his final five-furlong Belmont prep here Monday (59.48) than during the late stages of a similar trial in Kentucky, although he was all out to finish from the quarter pole to the wire, with not much more to offer galloping out, in a pretty aggressive move just five days out from the race.

Palace Malice – He’s been a good work horse from the first times I saw him in Florida right through the Derby, where he showed surprising speed while racing for the first time in blinkers. Those blinkers have come off since he’s returned home, but he was no less impressive in Sunday’s final prep, covering his final quarter in 22.46 and galloping out willingly enough. Although he’s continued to train well coming out of that work, his ability to get the distance remains a big question mark, with his action perhaps suggesting his future could be on turf.

Unlimited Budget – She turned in one of the best pre-Oaks works I saw in Kentucky, ran well against a very strong field, and was no less impressive in her final Belmont prep here Sunday, cruising through an easy half-mile while well held and seemingly very comfortable breezing outside of the Grade 1-placed Capo Bastone. She looked very average galloping for the first time coming out of that breeze Thursday, and there is concern about her ability to get a 1 1/2 miles, considering the breeding on her dam’s side.

Golden Soul – He earned a “work of the day” honor a week before the Derby, then outran his odds with a big second-place finish behind Orb over the sloppy track at Churchill. Although he became a little suspect when needing extra time to recuperate from that effort, he looked very good breezing an easy and visually impressive five furlongs in 1:00.36 before galloping out a solid six panels in 1:13.18 over his home course  May 29 and has continued to make a very favorable impression since shipping to New York earlier this week. He gives every indication that he may be sitting on another big effort, especially if catching a wet track again, although he must overcome the far-outside post.